What is an Intrusive Thought?

Introduction

An intrusive thought is an unwelcome, involuntary thought, image, or unpleasant idea that may become an obsession, is upsetting or distressing, and can feel difficult to manage or eliminate.

When such thoughts are associated with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), depression, body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), and sometimes attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), the thoughts may become paralysing, anxiety-provoking, or persistent. Intrusive thoughts may also be associated with episodic memory, unwanted worries or memories from OCD, post-traumatic stress disorder, other anxiety disorders, eating disorders, or psychosis. Intrusive thoughts, urges, and images are of inappropriate things at inappropriate times, and generally have aggressive, sexual, or blasphemous themes.

Description

General

Many people experience the type of bad or unwanted thoughts that people with more troubling intrusive thoughts have, but most people can dismiss these thoughts. For most people, intrusive thoughts are a “fleeting annoyance”. Psychologist Stanley Rachman presented a questionnaire to healthy college students and found that virtually all said they had these thoughts from time to time, including thoughts of sexual violence, sexual punishment, “unnatural” sex acts, painful sexual practices, blasphemous or obscene images, thoughts of harming elderly people or someone close to them, violence against animals or towards children, and impulsive or abusive outbursts or utterances. Such thoughts are universal among humans, and have “almost certainly always been a part of the human condition”.

When intrusive thoughts occur with OCD, patients are less able to ignore the unpleasant thoughts and may pay undue attention to them, causing the thoughts to become more frequent and distressing. The suppression of intrusive thoughts often cause these thoughts to become more intense and persistent. The thoughts may become obsessions that are paralysing, severe, and constantly present, these might involve topics such as violence, sex, or religious blasphemy, among others. Distinguishing them from normal intrusive thoughts experienced by many people, the intrusive thoughts associated with OCD may be anxiety provoking, irrepressible, and persistent.

How people react to intrusive thoughts may determine whether these thoughts will become severe, turn into obsessions, or require treatment. Intrusive thoughts can occur with or without compulsions. Carrying out the compulsion reduces the anxiety, but makes the urge to perform the compulsion stronger each time it recurs, reinforcing the intrusive thoughts. According to Lee Baer, suppressing the thoughts only makes them stronger, and recognising that bad thoughts do not signify that one is truly evil is one of the steps to overcoming them. There is evidence of the benefit of acceptance as an alternative to the suppression of intrusive thoughts. In one particular study, those instructed to suppress intrusive thoughts experienced more distress after suppression, while patients instructed to accept the bad thoughts experienced decreased discomfort. These results may be related to underlying cognitive processes involved in OCD. However, accepting the thoughts can be more difficult for persons with OCD.

The possibility that most patients with intrusive thoughts will ever act on those thoughts is low. Patients who are experiencing intense guilt, anxiety, shame, and are upset over these thoughts are very different from those who actually act on them. The fact that someone is tormented by intrusive thoughts and has never acted on them before is considered an excellent predictor that they will not act upon the thoughts. Patients who are not troubled or shamed by their thoughts, do not find them distasteful, or who have actually taken action, might need to have more serious conditions such as psychosis or potentially criminal behaviours ruled out. According to Lee Baer, a patient should be concerned that intrusive thoughts are dangerous if the person does not feel upset by the thoughts, or rather finds them pleasurable; has ever acted on violent or sexual thoughts or urges; hears voices or sees things that others do not see; or feels uncontrollable irresistible anger.

Aggressive Thoughts

Intrusive thoughts may involve violent obsessions about hurting others or themselves. They can be related to primarily obsessional obsessive compulsive disorder. These thoughts can include harming a child; jumping from a bridge, mountain, or the top of a tall building; urges to jump in front of a train or automobile; and urges to push another in front of a train or automobile. Rachman’s survey of healthy college students found that virtually all of them had intrusive thoughts from time to time, including:

  • Causing harm to elderly people.
  • Imagining or wishing harm upon someone close to oneself.
  • Impulses to violently attack, hit, harm or kill a person, small child, or animal.
  • Impulses to shout at or abuse someone, or attack and violently punish someone, or say something rude, inappropriate, nasty, or violent to someone.

These thoughts are part of being human, and need not ruin the quality of life. Treatment is available when the thoughts are associated with OCD and become persistent, severe, or distressing.

A variant of aggressive intrusive thoughts is L’appel du vide, or the call of the void. Those with L’appel du vide generally describe the condition as manifesting in certain situations, normally as a wish or brief desire to jump from a high location.

Sexual Thoughts

Sexual obsession involves intrusive thoughts or images of “kissing, touching, fondling, oral sex, anal sex, intercourse, and rape” with “strangers, acquaintances, parents, children, family members, friends, co-workers, animals and religious figures”, involving “heterosexual or homosexual content” with persons of any age.

Common sexual themes for intrusive thoughts for men involve:

  • Having sex in a public place;
  • People I come in contact with being naked; and
  • Engaging in a sexual act with someone who is unacceptable to me because they have authority over me.

Common sexual intrusive thoughts for women are:

  • Having sex in a public place;
  • Engaging in a sexual act with someone who is unacceptable to me because they have authority over me; and
  • Being sexually victimised.

Like other unwanted intrusive thoughts or images, most people have some inappropriate sexual thoughts at times, but people with OCD may attach significance to the unwanted sexual thoughts, generating anxiety and distress. The doubt that accompanies OCD leads to uncertainty regarding whether one might act on the intrusive thoughts, resulting in self-criticism or loathing.

One of the more common sexual intrusive thoughts occurs when an obsessive person doubts their sexual identity. As in the case of most sexual obsessions, individuals may feel shame and live in isolation, finding it hard to discuss their fears, doubts, and concerns about their sexual identity.

A person experiencing sexual intrusive thoughts may feel shame, “embarrassment, guilt, distress, torment, fear of acting on the thought or perceived impulse, and doubt about whether they have already acted in such a way.” Depression may be a result of the self-loathing that can occur, depending on how much the OCD interferes with daily functioning or causes distress. Their concern over these thoughts may cause them to scrutinize their bodies to determine if the thoughts result in feelings of arousal. However, focusing their attention on any part of the body can result in feelings in that body part, hence doing so may decrease confidence and increase fear about acting on the urges. Part of the treatment of sexual intrusive thoughts involves therapy to help them accept intrusive thoughts and stop trying to reassure themselves by checking their bodies. This arousal within the body parts is due to conditioned physiological responses in the brain, which do not respond to the subject of the sexual intrusive thought but rather to the fact that a sexual thought is occurring at all and thus engage an automatic response (research indicates that the correlation between what the genitalia regard as “sexually relevant” and what the brain regards as “sexually appealing” only correlates 50% of the time in men and 10% of the time in women). This means that an arousal response does not necessarily indicate that the person desires what they are thinking about. However, rational thinking processes attempt to explain this reaction and OCD causes people to attribute false meaning and importance to these physiological reactions in an attempt to make sense of them. People can also experience heightened anxiety caused by forbidden images or simply by discussing the matter which can then also cause physiological arousal, such as sweating, increased heart rate and some degree of tumescence or lubrication. This is often misinterpreted by the individual as an indication of desire or intent, when it is in fact not.

Religious Thoughts

Blasphemous thoughts are a common component of OCD, documented throughout history; notable religious figures such as Martin Luther and Ignatius of Loyola were known to be tormented by intrusive, blasphemous or religious thoughts and urges. Martin Luther had urges to curse God and Jesus, and was obsessed with images of “the Devil’s behind.” St. Ignatius had numerous obsessions, including the fear of stepping on pieces of straw forming a cross, fearing that it showed disrespect to Christ. A study of 50 patients with a primary diagnosis of OCD found that 40% had religious and blasphemous thoughts and doubts – a higher, but not statistically significantly different number than the 38% who had the obsessional thoughts related to dirt and contamination more commonly associated with OCD. One study suggests that the content of intrusive thoughts may vary depending on culture, and that blasphemous thoughts may be more common in men than in women.

According to Fred Penzel, a New York psychologist, some common religious obsessions and intrusive thoughts are:

  • Sexual thoughts about God, saints, and religious figures.
  • Bad thoughts or images during prayer or meditation.
  • Thoughts of being possessed.
  • Fears of sinning or breaking a religious law or performing a ritual incorrectly.
  • Fears of omitting prayers or reciting them incorrectly.
  • Repetitive and intrusive blasphemous thoughts.
  • Urges or impulses to say blasphemous words or commit blasphemous acts during religious services.

Suffering can be greater and treatment complicated when intrusive thoughts involve religious implications; patients may believe the thoughts are inspired by Satan, and may fear punishment from God or have magnified shame because they perceive themselves as sinful. Symptoms can be more distressing for individuals with strong religious convictions or beliefs.

Baer believes that blasphemous thoughts are more common in Catholics and evangelical Protestants than in other religions, whereas Jews or Muslims tend to have obsessions related more to complying with the laws and rituals of their faith, and performing the rituals perfectly. He hypothesizes that this is because what is considered inappropriate varies among cultures and religions, and intrusive thoughts torment their sufferers with whatever is considered most inappropriate in the surrounding culture.

Age Factors

Adults under the age of 40 seem to be the most affected by intrusive thoughts. Individuals in this age range tend to be less experienced at coping with these thoughts, and the stress and negative affect induced by them. Younger adults also tend to have stressors specific to that period of life that can be particularly challenging especially in the face of intrusive thoughts. Although, when introduced with an intrusive thought, both age groups immediately look for ways to reduce the recurrence of the thoughts.

Those in middle adulthood (40-60) have the highest prevalence of OCD and therefore seem to be the most susceptible to the anxiety and negative emotions associated with intrusive thought. Middle adults are in a unique position because they have to struggle with both the stressors of early and late adulthood. They may be more vulnerable to intrusive thought because they have more topics to relate to. Even with this being the case, middle adults are still better at coping with intrusive thoughts than early adults, although it takes them longer at first to process an intrusive thought. Older adults tend to see the intrusive thought more as a cognitive failure rather than a moral failure in opposition to young adults. They have a harder time suppressing the intrusive thoughts than young adults causing them to experience higher stress levels when dealing with these thoughts.

Intrusive thoughts appear to occur at the same rate across the lifespan, however, older adults seem to be less negatively affected than younger adults. Older adults have more experience in ignoring or suppressing strong negative reactions to stress.

Associated Conditions

Intrusive thoughts are associated with OCD or OCPD, but may also occur with other conditions such as:

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
  • Clinical depression.
  • Postpartum depression.
  • Generalised anxiety disorder and anxiety.

One of these conditions is almost always present in people whose intrusive thoughts reach a clinical level of severity. A large study published in 2005 found that aggressive, sexual, and religious obsessions were broadly associated with comorbid anxiety disorders and depression. The intrusive thoughts that occur in a schizophrenic episode differ from the obsessional thoughts that occur with OCD or depression in that the intrusive thoughts of people with schizophrenia are false or delusional beliefs (i.e. held by the schizophrenic individual to be real and not doubted, as is typically the case with intrusive thoughts) .

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

The key difference between OCD and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is that the intrusive thoughts of people with PTSD are of content relating to traumatic events that actually happened to them, whereas people with OCD have thoughts of imagined catastrophes. PTSD patients with intrusive thoughts have to sort out violent, sexual, or blasphemous thoughts from memories of traumatic experiences.[48] When patients with intrusive thoughts do not respond to treatment, physicians may suspect past physical, emotional, or sexual abuse. If a person who has experienced trauma practices looks for the positive outcomes, it is suggested they will experience less depression and higher self well-being. While a person may experience less depression for benefit finding, they may also experience an increased amount of intrusive and/or avoidant thoughts.

One study looking at women with PTSD found that intrusive thoughts were more persistent when the individual tried to cope by using avoidance-based thought regulation strategies. Their findings further support that not all coping strategies are helpful in diminishing the frequency of intrusive thoughts.

Depression

People who are clinically depressed may experience intrusive thoughts more intensely, and view them as evidence that they are worthless or sinful people. The suicidal thoughts that are common in depression must be distinguished from intrusive thoughts, because suicidal thoughts – unlike harmless sexual, aggressive, or religious thoughts – can be dangerous.

Non-depressed individuals have been shown to have a higher activation in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, which is the area of the brain that primarily functions in cognition, working memory, and planning, while attempting to suppress intrusive thoughts. This activation decreases in people at risk of or currently diagnosed with depression. When the intrusive thoughts re-emerge, non depressed individuals also show higher activation levels in the anterior cingulate cortices, which functions in error detection, motivation, and emotional regulation, than their depressed counterparts.

Roughly 60% of depressed individuals report experiencing bodily, visual, or auditory perceptions along with their intrusive thoughts. There is a correlation with experiencing those sensations with intrusive thoughts and more intense depressive symptoms as well as the need for heavier treatment.

Postpartum Depression and OCD

Unwanted thoughts by mothers about harming infants are common in postpartum depression. A 1999 study of 65 women with postpartum major depression by Katherine Wisner et al. found the most frequent aggressive thought for women with postpartum depression was causing harm to their newborn infants. A study of 85 new parents found that 89% experienced intrusive images, for example, of the baby suffocating, having an accident, being harmed, or being kidnapped.

Some women may develop symptoms of OCD during pregnancy or the postpartum period. Postpartum OCD occurs mainly in women who may already have OCD, perhaps in a mild or undiagnosed form. Postpartum depression and OCD may be comorbid (often occurring together). And though physicians may focus more on the depressive symptoms, one study found that obsessive thoughts did accompany postpartum depression in 57% of new mothers.

Wisner found common obsessions about harming babies in mothers experiencing postpartum depression include images of the baby lying dead in a casket or being eaten by sharks; stabbing the baby; throwing the baby down the stairs; or drowning or burning the baby (as by submerging it in the bathtub in the former case or throwing it in the fire or putting it in the microwave in the latter). Baer estimates that up to 200,000 new mothers with postpartum depression each year may develop these obsessional thoughts about their babies; and because they may be reluctant to share these thoughts with a physician or family member, or suffer in silence out of fear they could be “crazy”, their depression can worsen.

Intrusive fears of harming immediate children can last longer than the postpartum period. A study of 100 clinically depressed women found that 41% had obsessive fears that they might harm their child, and some were afraid to care for their children. Among non-depressed mothers, the study found 7% had thoughts of harming their child – a rate that yields an additional 280,000 non-depressed mothers in the United States with intrusive thoughts about harming their children.

Treatment

Treatment for intrusive thoughts is similar to treatment for OCD. Exposure and response prevention therapy – also referred to as habituation or desensitisation – is useful in treating intrusive thoughts. Mild cases can also be treated with cognitive behavioural therapy, which helps patients identify and manage the unwanted thoughts.

Exposure Therapy

Exposure therapy is the treatment of choice for intrusive thoughts. According to Deborah Osgood-Hynes, Psy.D. Director of Psychological Services and Training at the MGH/McLean OCD Institute, “In order to reduce a fear, you have to face a fear. This is true of all types of anxiety and fear reactions, not just OCD.” Because it is uncomfortable to experience bad thoughts and urges, shame, doubt or fear, the initial reaction is usually to do something to make the feelings diminish. By engaging in a ritual or compulsion to diminish the anxiety or bad feeling, the action is strengthened via a process called negative reinforcement – the mind learns that the way to avoid the bad feeling is by engaging in a ritual or compulsions. When OCD becomes severe, this leads to more interference in life and continues the frequency and severity of the thoughts the person sought to avoid.

Exposure therapy (or exposure and response prevention) is the practice of staying in an anxiety-provoking or feared situation until the distress or anxiety diminishes. The goal is to reduce the fear reaction, learning to not react to the bad thoughts. This is the most effective way to reduce the frequency and severity of the intrusive thoughts. The goal is to be able to “expose yourself to the thing that most triggers your fear or discomfort for one to two hours at a time, without leaving the situation, or doing anything else to distract or comfort you.” Exposure therapy will not eliminate intrusive thoughts – everyone has bad thoughts – but most patients find that it can decrease their thoughts sufficiently that intrusive thoughts no longer interfere with their lives.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a newer therapy than exposure therapy, available for those unable or unwilling to undergo exposure therapy. Cognitive therapy has been shown to be useful in reducing intrusive thoughts, but developing a conceptualisation of the obsessions and compulsions with the patient is important. One of the strategies sometimes used in Cognitive Behavioural Theory is mindfulness exercises. These include practices such as being aware of the thoughts, accepting the thoughts without judgement for them, and “being larger than your thoughts.”

Medication

Antidepressants or antipsychotic medications may be used for more severe cases if intrusive thoughts do not respond to cognitive behavioural or exposure therapy alone. Whether the cause of intrusive thoughts is OCD, depression, or PTSD, the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) drugs (a class of antidepressants) are the most commonly prescribed. Intrusive thoughts may occur in persons with Tourette syndrome (TS) who also have OCD; the obsessions in TS-related OCD are thought to respond to SSRI drugs as well.

Antidepressants that have been shown to be effective in treating OCD include fluvoxamine (trade name Luvox), fluoxetine (Prozac), sertraline (Zoloft), paroxetine (Paxil), citalopram (Celexa), and clomipramine (Anafranil). Although SSRIs are known to be effective for OCD in general, there have been fewer studies on their effectiveness for intrusive thoughts. A retrospective chart review of patients with sexual symptoms treated with SSRIs showed the greatest improvement was in those with intrusive sexual obsessions typical of OCD. A study of ten patients with religious or blasphemous obsessions found that most patients responded to treatment with fluoxetine or clomipramine. Women with postpartum depression often have anxiety as well, and may need lower starting doses of SSRIs; they may not respond fully to the medication, and may benefit from adding cognitive behavioural or response prevention therapy.

Patients with intense intrusive thoughts that do not respond to SSRIs or other antidepressants may be prescribed typical and atypical neuroleptics including risperidone (trade name Risperdal), ziprasidone (Geodon), haloperidol (Haldol), and pimozide (Orap).

Studies suggest that therapeutic doses of inositol may be useful in the treatment of obsessive thoughts.

Epidemiology

A 2007 study found that 78% of a clinical sample of OCD patients had intrusive images. Most people with intrusive thoughts have not identified themselves as having OCD, because they may not have what they believe to be classic symptoms of OCD, such as handwashing. Yet, epidemiological studies suggest that intrusive thoughts are the most common kind of OCD worldwide; if people in the United States with intrusive thoughts gathered, they would form the fourth-largest city in the US, following New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago.

The prevalence of OCD in every culture studied is at least 2% of the population, and the majority of those have obsessions, or bad thoughts, only; this results in a conservative estimate of more than 2 million affected individuals in the United States alone (as of 2000). One author estimates that one in 50 adults have OCD and about 10-20% of these have sexual obsessions. A recent study found that 25% of 293 patients with a primary diagnosis of OCD had a history of sexual obsessions.

This page is based on the copyrighted Wikipedia article < https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intrusive_thought >; it is used under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License (CC-BY-SA). You may redistribute it, verbatim or modified, providing that you comply with the terms of the CC-BY-SA.

Book: The Mindfulness and Acceptance Workbook for Self-Esteem

Book Title:

The Mindfulness and Acceptance Workbook for Self-Esteem.

Author(s): Joe Oliver.

Year: 2020.

Edition: First (1st).

Publisher: New Harbinger, Workbook Edition.

Type(s): Paperback and Kindle.

Synopsis:

We all have stories we have created about ourselves-some of them positive and some of them negative. If you suffer from low self-esteem, your story may include these types of narratives: “I’m a failure,” “I’ll never be able to do that,” or “If only I were smarter or more attractive, I could be happy.” Ironically, at the end of the day, these narratives are your biggest roadblocks to achieving happiness and living the life you deserve. So, how can you break free from these stories-once and for all?

Grounded in evidence-based acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), this workbook offers a step-by-step programme to help you break free from self-doubt, learn to accept yourself and your faults, identify and cultivate your strengths, and reach your full potential. You will also discover ways to take action and move toward the life you truly want, even when these actions trigger self-doubt. Finally, you’ll learn to see yourself in all your complexity, with kindness and compassion.

What is Learned Helplessness?

Introduction

Learned helplessness is behaviour exhibited by a subject after enduring repeated aversive stimuli beyond their control. It was initially thought to be caused from the subject’s acceptance of their powerlessness: discontinuing attempts to escape or avoid the aversive stimulus, even when such alternatives are unambiguously presented. Upon exhibiting such behaviour, the subject was said to have acquired learned helplessness.

Over the past few decades, neuroscience has provided insight into learned helplessness and shown that the original theory actually had it backwards: the brain’s default state is to assume that control is not present, and the presence of “helpfulness” is what is actually learned.

In humans, learned helplessness is related to the concept of self-efficacy; the individual’s belief in their innate ability to achieve goals. Learned helplessness theory is the view that clinical depression and related mental illnesses may result from such real or perceived absence of control over the outcome of a situation.

Refer to Learned Optimism.

Foundation of Research and Theory

Early Experiments

American psychologist Martin Seligman initiated research on learned helplessness in 1967 at the University of Pennsylvania as an extension of his interest in depression. This research was later expanded through experiments by Seligman and others. One of the first was an experiment by Seligman & Maier:

  • In Part 1 of this study, three groups of dogs were placed in harnesses.
    • Group 1 dogs were simply put in a harness for a period of time and were later released.
    • Groups 2 and 3 consisted of “yoked pairs”.
    • Dogs in Group 2 were given electric shocks at random times, which the dog could end by pressing a lever.
    • Each dog in Group 3 was paired with a Group 2 dog; whenever a Group 2 dog got a shock, its paired dog in Group 3 got a shock of the same intensity and duration, but its lever did not stop the shock.
    • To a dog in Group 3, it seemed that the shock ended at random, because it was their paired dog in Group 2 that was causing it to stop.
    • Thus, for Group 3 dogs, the shock was “inescapable”.
  • In Part 2 of the experiment the same three groups of dogs were tested in a shuttle-box apparatus (a chamber containing two rectangular compartments divided by a barrier a few inches high).
    • All of the dogs could escape shocks on one side of the box by jumping over a low partition to the other side.
    • The dogs in Groups 1 and 2 quickly learned this task and escaped the shock.
    • Most of the Group 3 dogs – which had previously learned that nothing they did had any effect on shocks – simply lay down passively and whined when they were shocked.

In a second experiment later that year with new groups of dogs, Overmier and Seligman ruled out the possibility that, instead of learned helplessness, the Group 3 dogs failed to avert in the second part of the test because they had learned some behaviour that interfered with “escape”. To prevent such interfering behaviour, Group 3 dogs were immobilised with a paralysing drug (curare), and underwent a procedure similar to that in Part 1 of the Seligman and Maier experiment. When tested as before in Part 2, these Group 3 dogs exhibited helplessness as before. This result serves as an indicator for the ruling out of the interference hypothesis.

From these experiments, it was thought that there was to be only one cure for helplessness. In Seligman’s hypothesis, the dogs do not try to escape because they expect that nothing they do will stop the shock. To change this expectation, experimenters physically picked up the dogs and moved their legs, replicating the actions the dogs would need to take in order to escape from the electrified grid. This had to be done at least twice before the dogs would start wilfully jumping over the barrier on their own. In contrast, threats, rewards, and observed demonstrations had no effect on the “helpless” Group 3 dogs.

Later Experiments

Later experiments have served to confirm the depressive effect of feeling a lack of control over an aversive stimulus. For example, in one experiment, humans performed mental tasks in the presence of distracting noise. Those who could use a switch to turn off the noise rarely bothered to do so, yet they performed better than those who could not turn off the noise. Simply being aware of this option was enough to substantially counteract the noise effect. In 2011, an animal study found that animals with control over stressful stimuli exhibited changes in the excitability of certain neurons in the prefrontal cortex. Animals that lacked control failed to exhibit this neural effect and showed signs consistent with learned helplessness and social anxiety.

Expanded Theories

Research has found that a human’s reaction to feeling a lack of control differs both between individuals and between situations, i.e. learned helplessness sometimes remains specific to one situation but at other times generalises across situations. Such variations are not explained by the original theory of learned helplessness, and an influential view is that such variations depend on an individual’s attributional or explanatory style. According to this view, how someone interprets or explains adverse events affects their likelihood of acquiring learned helplessness and subsequent depression. For example, people with pessimistic explanatory style tend to see negative events as permanent (“it will never change”), personal (“it’s my fault”), and pervasive (“I can’t do anything correctly”), and are likely to suffer from learned helplessness and depression.

Bernard Weiner proposed a detailed account of the attributional approach to learned helplessness. His attribution theory includes the dimensions of globality/specificity, stability/instability, and internality/externality:

  • A global attribution occurs when the individual believes that the cause of negative events is consistent across different contexts.
    • A specific attribution occurs when the individual believes that the cause of a negative event is unique to a particular situation.
  • A stable attribution occurs when the individual believes the cause to be consistent across time.
    • An unstable attribution occurs when the individual thinks that the cause is specific to one point in time.
  • An external attribution assigns causality to situational or external factors,
    • while an internal attribution assigns causality to factors within the person.

Research has shown that those with an internal, stable, and global attributional style for negative events can be more at risk for a depressive reaction to failure experiences.

Neurobiological Perspective

Research has shown that increased 5-HT (serotonin) activity in the dorsal raphe nucleus plays a critical role in learned helplessness. Other key brain regions that are involved with the expression of helpless behaviour include the basolateral amygdala, central nucleus of the amygdala and bed nucleus of the stria terminalis. Activity in medial prefrontal cortex, dorsal hippocampus, septum and hypothalamus has also been observed during states of helplessness.

In the article, “Exercise, Learned Helplessness, and the Stress-Resistant Brain”, Benjamin N. Greenwood and Monika Fleshner discuss how exercise might prevent stress-related disorders such as anxiety and depression. They show evidence that running wheel exercise prevents learned helplessness behaviours in rats. They suggest that the amount of exercise may not be as important as simply exercising at all. The article also discusses the neurocircuitry of learned helplessness, the role of serotonin (or 5-HT), and the exercise-associated neural adaptations that may contribute to the stress-resistant brain. However, the authors finally conclude that:

“The underlying neurobiological mechanisms of this effect, however, remain unknown. Identifying the mechanisms by which exercise prevents learned helplessness could shed light on the complex neurobiology of depression and anxiety and potentially lead to novel strategies for the prevention of stress-related mood disorders”.

Health Implications

People who perceive events as uncontrollable show a variety of symptoms that threaten their mental and physical well-being. They experience stress, they often show disruption of emotions demonstrating passivity or aggressiveness, and they can also have difficulty performing cognitive tasks such as problem-solving. They are less likely to change unhealthy patterns of behaviour, causing them, for example, to neglect diet, exercise, and medical treatment.

Depression

Abnormal and cognitive psychologists have found a strong correlation between depression-like symptoms and learned helplessness in laboratory animals.

Young adults and middle-aged parents with a pessimistic explanatory style often suffer from depression. They tend to be poor at problem-solving and cognitive restructuring, and also tend to demonstrate poor job satisfaction and interpersonal relationships in the workplace. Those with a pessimistic style also tend to have weakened immune systems, having not only increased vulnerability to minor ailments (e.g. cold, fever) and major illness (e.g. heart attack, cancers), but also poorer recovery from health problems.

Social Impact

Learned helplessness can be a factor in a wide range of social situations.

  • In emotionally abusive relationships, the victim often develops learned helplessness.
    • This occurs when the victim confronts or tries to leave the abuser only to have the abuser dismiss or trivialise the victim’s feelings, pretend to care but not change, or impede the victim from leaving.
  • The motivational effect of learned helplessness is often seen in the classroom.
    • Students who repeatedly fail may conclude that they are incapable of improving their performance, and this attribution keeps them from trying to succeed, which results in increased helplessness, continued failure, loss of self-esteem and other social consequences.
  • Child abuse by neglect can be a manifestation of learned helplessness.
    • For example, when parents believe they are incapable of stopping an infant’s crying, they may simply give up trying to do anything for the child.
  • Those who are extremely shy or anxious in social situations may become passive due to feelings of helplessness.
    • Gotlib and Beatty (1985) found that people who cite helplessness in social settings may be viewed poorly by others, which tends to reinforce the passivity.
  • Aging individuals may respond with helplessness to the deaths of friends and family members, the loss of jobs and income, and the development of age-related health problems.
    • This may cause them to neglect their medical care, financial affairs, and other important needs.
  • According to Cox et al., Abramson, Devine, and Hollon (2012), learned helplessness is a key factor in depression that is caused by inescapable prejudice (i.e. “deprejudice”).
    • Thus: “Helplessness born in the face of inescapable prejudice matches the helplessness born in the face of inescapable shocks.”
  • According to Ruby K. Payne’s book A Framework for Understanding Poverty, treatment of the poor can lead to a cycle of poverty, a culture of poverty, and generational poverty.
    • This type of learned helplessness is passed from parents to children.
    • People who embrace this mentality feel there is no way to escape poverty and so one must live in the moment and not plan for the future, trapping families in poverty.

Social problems resulting from learned helplessness may seem unavoidable to those entrenched. However, there are various ways to reduce or prevent it. When induced in experimental settings, learned helplessness has been shown to resolve itself with the passage of time. People can be immunized against the perception that events are uncontrollable by increasing their awareness of previous experiences, when they were able to effect a desired outcome. Cognitive therapy can be used to show people that their actions do make a difference and bolster their self-esteem.

Extensions

Cognitive scientist and usability engineer Donald Norman used learned helplessness to explain why people blame themselves when they have a difficult time using simple objects in their environment.

The UK educationalist Phil Bagge describes it as a learning avoidance strategy caused by prior failure and the positive reinforcement of avoidance such as asking teachers or peers to explain and consequently do the work. It shows itself as sweet helplessness or aggressive helplessness often seen in challenging problem solving contexts, such as learning to use a new computer programming language.

The US sociologist Harrison White has suggested in his book Identity and Control that the notion of learned helplessness can be extended beyond psychology into the realm of social action. When a culture or political identity fails to achieve desired goals, perceptions of collective ability suffer.

Emergence under Torture

Studies on learned helplessness served as the basis for developing enhanced interrogation techniques. In CIA interrogation manuals, learned helplessness is characterised as “apathy” which may result from prolonged use of coercive techniques which result in a “debility-dependency-dread” state in the subject, “If the debility-dependency-dread state is unduly prolonged, however, the arrestee may sink into a defensive apathy from which it is hard to arouse him.”

Book: Mindfulness For Insomnia

Book Title:

Mindfulness For Insomnia – A Four-Week Guided Program To Relax Your Body, Calm Your Mind, and Get the Sleep You Need.

Author(s): Catherine Polan Orzech (MA and LMFT) and William H. Moorcroft (PhD).

Year: 2019.

Edition: First (1st).

Publisher: New Harbinger.

Type(s): Paperback, Audiobook, and Kindle.

Synopsis:

Sleep plays a crucial role in our waking lives. While we sleep, our bodies are recharging with energy, damaged tissue is repaired, and our memories are stored. When we do not get enough sleep, we are tired, less positive, less motivated, less focused, and more likely to feel depressed. We may even experience more intense cravings for high-fat, sugar-rich foods. And yet, despite the myriad advantages of getting a good night’s sleep, countless people suffer from chronic insomnia. If you’re one of them, this book can help.

In this guide, a trained mindfulness expert teams up with a behavioural sleep specialist to offer evidence-based meditations and an innovative four-week protocol to address the emotional stresses and anxieties that lie at the root of sleep issues.

You’ll learn practices grounded in mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), mindful self-compassion (MSC), and guided mindfulness and acceptance for insomnia (GMATI) to alleviate the mental, emotional, and physical suffering caused by insomnia. You’ll also learn to identify both internal and external factors that may be compromising your sleep, and develop a plan to address these issues.

There is nothing we can do to “make” ourselves fall asleep. In many ways, this is why insomnia can be so maddening. But what we can do is help create the conditions necessary for healthy slumber. The mindfulness tools in this book will help you do exactly that.

Book: Mindfulness for Everyday Living – A Guide for Mental Health Practitioners

Book Title:

Mindfulness for Everyday Living – A Guide for Mental Health Practitioners.

Author(s): Patrick R. Steffen (Editor).

Year: 2020.

Edition: First (1st).

Publisher: Springer.

Type(s): Hardcover and Kindle.

Synopsis:

This book presents practical approaches for integrating mindfulness principles into daily life. It examines how to incorporate mindfulness principles into interventions across various fields and with different client populations. In addition, the volume describes how to teach clients to integrate mindfulness techniques into daily living – from general stress reduction and compassionate positive living to working with children with medical conditions or autism to mindful parenting and healthy marriages.

The book explains key concepts clearly and succinctly and details practical daily approaches and use. Each chapter presents cutting-edge research that is integrated into effective, proven interventions that represent the gold standard of care and are simple and powerful to use, and concludes with recommendations on how each individual can create his or her own personalized mindfulness approach that matches his or her needs and situation. This book is a must have resource for clinicians, therapists, and health professionals as well as researchers, professors, and graduate students in clinical psychology, psychotherapy/counselling, psychiatry, social work, and developmental psychology.

Book: Managing Depression with Mindfulness for Dummies

Book Title:

Managing Depression with Mindfulness for Dummies.

Author(s): Robert Gebka.

Year: 2016.

Edition: First (1st).

Publisher: Tyndale Momentum.

Type(s): Paperback and Kindle.

Synopsis:

If you suffer from depression, you know that it is not something you can simply snap yourself out of. Depression is a potentially debilitating condition that must be treated and managed with care, but not knowing where to turn for help can make an already difficult time feel even more harrowing. Thankfully, Managing Depression with Mindfulness For Dummies offers authoritative and sensitive guidance on using evidence based and NHS approved Mindfulness Based Interventions similar to Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) to help empower you to rise above depression and discover a renewed sense of emotional wellbeing and happiness. The book offers cutting edge self-management mindfulness techniques which will help you make sense of your condition and teach you how to relate differently to negative thought patterns which so often contribute to low mood and depression.

The World Health Organisation predicts that more people will be affected by depression than any other health problem by the year 2030. While the statistics are staggering, they offer a small glimmer of hope: you are not alone. As we continue to learn more about how depression works and how it can be treated, the practice of mindfulness proves to be an effective tool for alleviating stress, anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, and insomnia. With the tips and guidance offered inside, you′ll learn how to apply the practice of mindfulness to ease your symptoms of depression and get your life back.

  • Heal and recover from depression mindfully.
  • Understand the relationship between thinking, feeling, mood, and depression.
  • Reduce your depression with effective mindfulness practices.
  • Implement positive changes and prevent relapse.

Whether you are struggling with low mood or simply wish to learn mindfulness as a way of enriching your life, Managing Depression with Mindfulness For Dummies serves as a beacon of light and hope on your journey to rediscovering your sense of wellbeing, joy and happiness.

Book: Mental Health Workbook

Book Title:

Mental Health Workbook: 4 Books In 1: How to Use Neuroscience and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy to Declutter Your Mind, Stop Overthinking and Quickly Overcome Anxiety, Worry and Panic Attacks.

Author(s): Edward Scott.

Year: 2020.

Edition: First (1st).

Publisher: Saturno Lecca.

Type(s): Hardcover, Paperback, and Kindle.

Synopsis:

Want to learn more about neuroscience paired with cognitive behavioural therapy? Would you like to figure out how to clear your mind by stopping stress, stopping overthinking, overcoming anxiety, worries and panic attacks? If so, read on!

The Cognitive behavioural therapy has been shown to be effective in relieving symptoms in a wide range of mental health problems, ranging from addiction to schizophrenia, along with almost everything in between. It has been shown to be useful for longer than drugs and other forms of therapy.

Excessive thinking can be a side effect of some nervousness problems; however, it can also be an indication of simply being overwhelmed.

One of the most important reasons you want to clear your mind is because it is already playing a negative role in your life. Living with constant negative thoughts and intense fears can cause someone to crave a way to relieve pain or develop unhealthy habits that could get worse.

Anxiety is linked to many other mental illnesses, especially depression!

The main focus of this book is to follow the steps which will improve your thinking

This book covers the following topics

  • What is cognitive behavioural therapy?
  • Stages of cognitive behavioural therapy
  • Definition of excessive thinking.
  • How to identify if you are an excessive thinker.
  • The relationship between excessive thinking, anxiety and stress.
  • Health Benefits of Decluttering.
  • Usual remedy in localised deep breathing.
  • Believe in your self-esteem.
  • And many more.

Before learning the exercises that eliminate negative thinking, you should understand why you have these thoughts.

In fact, the stress caused by information overload, endless options and physical clutter can trigger various mental health problems, including depression, anxiety, and panic attacks. Do you want to know how to prevent them?

What are the Hidden Downsides of Mindfulness?

“Mindfulness and other types of meditation are usually seen as simple stress-relievers – but they can sometimes leave people worse off.” (Wilson, 2020, p.15).

Read this interesting article by Claire Wilson in the New Scientist about the dowsides of mindfulness.

Reference

Wilson, C. (2020) The Hidden Downsides of Mindfulness. New Scientist. 22 August 2020, pp.15

Book: Breaking Negative Thinking Patterns

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Book Title:

Breaking Negative Thinking Patterns – A Schema Therapy Self-Help and Support Book.

Author(s): Gitta Jacob.

Year: 2015.

Edition: First (1st).

Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell.

Type(s): Hardcover, Paperback, and Kindle.

Synopsis:

Breaking Negative Thinking Patterns is the first schema-mode focused resource guide aimed at schema therapy patients and self-help readers seeking to understand and overcome negative patterns of thinking and behaviour.

  • Represents the first resource for general readers on the mode approach to schema therapy.
  • Features a wealth of case studies that serve to clarify schemas and modes and illustrate techniques for overcoming dysfunctional modes and behaviour patterns.
  • Offers a series of exercises that readers can immediately apply to real-world challenges and emotional problems as well as the complex difficulties typically tackled with schema therapy.
  • Includes original illustrations that demonstrate the modes and approaches in action, along with 20 self-help mode materials which are also available online.
  • Written by authors closely associated with the development of schema therapy and the schema mode approach.

Book: Overcoming Depression

Book Title:

Overcoming Depression: The CBT Program to Overcoming Psychological Blockages Due to Depression, Anxiety, Phobias and Eliminating Negative Thoughts. Retraining Your Brain, Resolve the Eating Disorder. (Emotional Intelligence Book 4).

Author(s): George Wiseman.

Year: 2019.

Edition: First.

Publisher: Independently Published.

Type(s): Paperback and Kindle.

Synopsis:

Do you ever cry for a long time?Can’t stand to keep having to take antidepressants or tranquilisers anymore?

One out of three patients who often go to primary care physician would have depression. Millions of people regularly take antidepressants. Being labelled as depressed is not a cure. It could even demoralise you and give you a longer bitter suffering.

We are now used to see negative emotions as disorders or diseases. Our modern therapeutic culture has gone too far in labelling people for their anxieties – such labels make them feel mentally abnormal and unable to help themselves.With my studies and by all my experience, I realised that the secret is developing resilience in adversity; dealing with problems and being deeply changed by such experiences.

I realised that our current way to approach depression and despair often makes things even worse than what they are.We live in an overprotective society, which believes the way to help weak and vulnerable people is to assist them as kids and to prevent their bad experiences.With these habits, you will have a clear view on how you can best guide your community and give priority to what is most important to achieve your goals.

This is it what you will learn in “Overcoming Depression”, which is part of the “Emotional Intelligence” series.

The goal of this books’ series is simple: we will teach you habits, mentality and actions to better recognise, feel better emotions and use them to improve yourself and others.You will learn:

  • How to develop resilience in adversity.
  • How to get through difficult times.
  • How to eliminate Negative Thoughts.
  • How to Develop an Unbeatable Mind.
  • To improve Focus and Concentration.

How to Manage Yourself”Overcoming Depression” is a book full of content with exercises that will have an immediate and positive impact on your mentality and on your working environment.

We are looking for practical actions that can create real and lasting changes if you practice regularly.Would you like to know more?Download now to Retrain Your Brain and Solve Any Behavioural Disorder.